Regent chairman: no swift action on Virgin of Guadalupe

The Associated Press
July 19, 2001

SANTA FE (AP)- The board that oversees state museums will not make a quick decision whether to remove a controversial image of the Virgin of Guadalupe from a museum wall, the new chairman says. That means the art work could remain on display until Oct. 28-when it's scheduled to be removed-without the board of regents ever deciding its fate.

Critics contend the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe clad in a flowery, two-piece swimsuit is sacrilegious and culturally insensitive.

They planned to appeal a decision last week by Tom Wilson, the director of the museum system, to keep the work by Los Angeles artist Alma Lopez on exhibit at the Museum of International Folk Art.

But the appeal had not been delivered to the seven-member governing board by the time it met Wednesday-with three newly appointed regents-and there was no discussion of the controversy.

C.W. ``Buddy'' Ritter, who was elected chairman, said in an interview that the board does not have a process for handling the anticipated appeal, and will have to establish one.

He also said it was likely the regents would want to hold a hearing to get input from both sides before making a decision.

``I feel like, especially with the three new regents, that ... if we're going to vote on something, we must be well-informed on it,'' Ritter said.

He said a process may be discussed or set up at the board's next meeting, on Sept. 20 in Las Cruces. The next scheduled meeting after that is Nov. 15.

Critics of the collage said the comments indicated more foot-dragging by musuem officials.

``I don't know why they couldn't just have the hearing,'' said Deacon Anthony Trujillo of Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish in Santa Fe. ``They've stalled and they've stalled, and they've delayed and they've delayed.''

Community activist Jose Villegas, who said the appeal could be delivered as soon as Thursday, said he would ask the regents to hold special meetings to speed up the appeals process.

The exhibit-``Cyber Arte: Tradition Meets Technology''-opened in February, and Lopez's collage drew attention after it was featured in a museum mailing.

Hundreds of people attended a hearing, and protests have been held outside the museum.

The collage features a photograph of a model portraying the Virgin of Guadalupe-a representation of the Virgin Mary-wearing a computer-generated two-piece floral outfit that leaves her midriff bare.

Her image floats above that of a bare-breasted angel.

Lopez, a Catholic, has said she meant to portray the Virgin as a strong, independent, modern woman, and intended no disrespect.

A committee of museum officials recommended two months ago that Lopez's work not be removed.

The Museum of International Folk Art announced at that time that ``in the spirit of reconciliation'' it would remove the entire ``Cyber Arte'' exhibit four months early, at the end of October.

The new regents, appointed by Gov. Gary Johnson, are Carolyn Mitchell of Roswell, an insurance agent who has been active in civic organizations; Connie Tsosie Gaussoin of Santa Fe, a noted jewelry maker whose work is in the permanent collections of the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and other museums; and Joanne McCarthy of Santa Fe, who has chaired development for the Museum of New Mexico Foundation since 1998.

©Santa Fe New Mexican 2001


Reader Opinions

Name: Shame on Us
At the risk of expressing a very unpopular opinion, I must say that the time has come for us Hispanics of northern New Mexico to stop placing the blame on others for everything about our lives and our region we do not like. The Alma Lopez exhibit is not against our ethnicity; she IS ONE OF US. If we want better jobs with better pay (such as the museum employee suggests), it is imperative we make decisions in our lives that allow us to achieve that. Cell phones, fancy clothes with names all over them, and brand new cars with expensive stereos (and big payments) benefit none of us in the long run and seem only a form of self-oppression. We let our family members drink and drive, abuse each other with unacceptable sexism and violence, and we hide under the cloak of Catholicism whenever the truth is ugly. Stop it! Stop acting like powerless children. Stand up and act like proud human beings, not prideful ones. Stop blaming the Whites, the New Yorkers, the ricos, whatever. When we're in control of our own lives, art exhibits will cease to seem like such enormous issues and
we'll be able to discuss them and disagree with each other respectfully. I pray the Hispanos in this area will stop being sidetracked by non-issues like this art exhibit, and start focusing on the choices they make in their own lives.

Name: Albert Gerney
I am deeply disappointed in the behavior of the rightwing catholics who claim to represent my church when they reject freedom of expression, intelligent discourse, and the right of people to hold differing opinions. I do not believe the "east coast bishop" quoted in the article truly represents the magnificent history of Catholic art and thought when he attacks the museum as the "unfeeling rich" who "mock the devout poor." Rather it is the rich supporters of this bishop and this pseudo-religious TFP and "America needs Fatima" group who mock their church by questioning the sincerity and integrity of Catholic artists like Alma Lopez. I hope her faith in God, her church, and her God-given talent are not impaired by these thoughtless anti-Catholic demagogues. Every age has seen the likes of them, as they burn good Catholics at the stake when they can, or destroy their good names when the law prevents them attacking others bodily. God bless America and the Catholic Church exemplified by Vatican II and Pope John XXIII, not by mindless bigots waving banners that would have embarrassed Jesus and his mother both.

Name: Benjamin Hiegert

It is encouraging to see Catholic stand up for their Faith in public, especially when the person of Blessed Virgin Mary is concerned. In the current atmosphere of moral relativism, blasphemy is not a popular word. Everyone seems to be free to express whatever they want. However when this form of expression (definitely not something that merits the title of art) offends people, they surely have the right to express their outrage. As Catholics this insulting portrayal of the Blessed Virgin is unacceptable. I am astonished to see Albert Gerney refer to the protesters as "mindless bigots waving banners that would have embarrassed Jesus and his mother." Does Our Lord Jesus Christ approve of an exhibit that mocks the purity of His own mother - to whom the Catholic church refers to as Mother Most Pure? I sure would not be ashamed of someone who stands up and defends my mother's honor.

Name: mex-ca resident
If we understood feminist thought better, we would see that "Our Lady" is not sacrilegious nor offensive--but an informed attempt by a Chicana feminist to recreate or redefine socially constructed meanings and identities (whether religious or not) into a form/image which is reflective of the artist’s experiences and truths. We would also see that "Our Lady" is an attempt by a woman of color to create an image which is not stereotyped, an image she could personally relate to, especially since we live in a society which often represses the voices and misrepresents minority women. When we look at this amazing image then, many people are challenged or insulted that a woman/woman of color (godly creations in fact) with a sexy body dares to be portrayed at the level of a God-like image. "How dare she!" Censorship makes no sense--it closes the door on education, creativity, thought, and reflection. Maybe this is why many find this image so "insulting." MOIFA should be applauded and supported for their efforts against censorship. I hope the regents continue to support the rights of talented artists, like Alma Lopez.

Name: Museum Empoyee
I am one of many employee's of the Museum of New Mexico that is against the picture being left up at the Museum of International Folk Art museum. But like most of us nobody will say anything because alot of us are afraid that they will fire us for some other reason because we spoke up. I myself attended the rally yesterday and I thought it was beautiful. It reminded me of the Greatest Story Ever Told, if any of you ever had the chance to see this movie there is a part when all the people are praying out in the courtyard while the government leaders and religous leader's listen to them and mock them. That is what it reminded me of seeing the guards of the museum, video taping us from the inside of the folk art, through a window. As well as other employee's trying to fit in the crowd taking pictures for the museum. I just hope the pictures that the were taken are for a good reason and not to open another gallery on the protest. That is something that the museum would do. It is just time that we the people hispanic people from norhtern new mexico stop letting outsiders mock us put us down and get away with it. We need to stand up and ask why are all the good paying jobs going to the outsiders, and the low paying jobs going to the gaurds, cashier's, and maintenance workers.And then you have your token chicano's 1,2, or 3 of them in each museum and I can say this because I see them everyday. Myself personaly,I have taken this as a personal attack not only on my religion, but also on my race, ethnicitiy, and national origin.At least to some of us employee's this has nothing to do with Alma Lopez at all anymore this has to do with the Museum's of New Mexico and the way that are people have alway's been treated here.

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